ManCity 11/27/2011: Two Sides to the Coin

There are two ways to look at Liverpool’s 1-1 home draw with Manchester City on Sunday.

The first: We outplayed City and deserved the three points.

Which is impressive in its own right. Who would’ve thought that, but for a few nervy moments in the Liverpool backline, the man of the match would go to Joe Hart and not Pepe Reina? Who would’ve thought that the league leaders would be pegged back for so long in both halves?

In hindsight, if you’d have offered me a point before the match, I would’ve taken it with both hands. This was an inspired (and inspiring) performance from Kenny Dalglish’s men, and the only unfortunate thing was that Liverpool didn’t get an extra 10, 15 minutes to play.

For all of Liverpool’s attacking chances created and all the deserved credit that should go their way, not just for this particular game but for the season so far in general, we have to stand up and applaud the Red defence and midfield. Skrtel and Agger fully justified Kenny’s decision to keep Carragher on the bench with a commanding and dominating central defensive performance. Pepe Reina played the role of sweeper keeper to the highest level. Jose Enrique, barring an errant backpass, turned in a solid shift and was a major threat going forward. And the same has to be said for Glen Johnson, whose critics must have been silenced from a fantastic display at right-back. He’s always been good going forward, but he’s added defensive strength and heading ability as well.

And of course, Charlie Adam looks to be improving week by week, as his positioning, awareness and (surprisingly) running caused untold trouble in the attacking third. Alongside him was the outstanding Lucas Leiva – and even I believe that’s not a good enough word to describe his performance. A two-in-one package of midfield destroyer and attack instigator, Lucas is becoming a lynchpin of this Liverpool side.

In a mini-league amongst the Top Six, Liverpool would be right up there. An accomplished display at Stamford Bridge was followed by one of the highest order at Anfield against the possible champions-elect. Briefly looking at the statistics, this was probably City’s first league game this season in which they didn’t create over 10 shooting chances. To say that Liverpool’s was a fine defensive performance would be a vast understatement.

If it weren’t for Joe Hart’s excellence, Liverpool would’ve kept the three points at home and inflicted a first defeat on the Citizens.

And now on to the second interpretation: We outplayed City and deserved the three points.

More chances, more possession, and more men on the field against one of the supposed big boys. A dominant performance at home. Chances created, missed and saved by another in-form keeper. In short, this smelled like yet another Liverpool night.

In hindsight, if you’d have offered me a point before the match, I would’ve taken it with both hands. But the way things turned out, this was a game for Liverpool’s taking, especially after Mario Balotelli’s antics earned him a sending off. Of course, City still had the world-class Joe Hart to thank, but Liverpool experienced yet another profligate night.

For all of Liverpool’s fine defensive work and possession play, the fact remains that the rest of the men in Red continue to underperform. Anfield witnessed yet another anonymous showing from Stewart Downing – and for that matter, why does Jordan Henderson turn in better performances as a substitute? Suarez extended his recent run of less-than-exhilarating form, while Kuyt has yet to hit the target this season.

I suppose I should take lots of satisfaction from the fact that we can afford to be disappointed at not beating City after turning in such an accomplished performance. But holding still and keeping a point when they could have had none: City remain unbeaten and the strongest in the league, with good reason.

So, yes, in a mini-league amongst the Top Six, Liverpool would be right up there.

Unfortunately, this is a league of 20 teams, not 6. As much as we passed the City test with gliding colors (I wouldn’t say “flying” just yet), this, like our win at Stamford Bridge, only solidifies Liverpool’s reputation as underdog specialists.

A fantastic performance on the night, no doubt, but the real tests lie in December’s league game run: Fulham, QPR, Aston Villa, Wigan, Blackburn, Newcastle.

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